Home Works

We work at being at home; our home works for our family. We are regular; regular seems rare. I try to look at the stars like my mother does each night -- proof we are all under the same sky.

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Channel

This week, Isaac said, "Do you know what today is? September 26. I've been here two months."

"Happy Anniversary!" I said.

"It's been fast, very fast," he said.

I agree. When we suddenly agreed to take a Spanish-speaking teenager from Ecuador into our home, the year loomed large with many worries. Today, in the Mexican Restaurant, the manager spoke to me in Spanish, and I responded in Spanish. Confused, he then spoke to me in English because he hadn't expected Spanish. Then, I was confused, because I hadn't expected English after he started in Spanish. False starts with smiles, like when you meet someone in a hall and mirror each other's efforts to get out of the way. While I now know enough Spanish to be confused about what language I'm speaking with someone, I still don't know enough to actually have a meaninfgul conversation in Spanish.

Two months ago was also before the twin hurricanes hit just a little south of here.

Two months ago, the children in our neighborhood had not yet returned to school.

Today, it's over twenty degrees cooler; our lives are ruled by the schedules of two soccer teams and a karate dojo. When Nick's and Patrick's soccer ends, Isaac's will begin. And it will be two months later again.

Right now, I think beyond my to-do list to the want-to-do list. I am working up to another round of phone calls to the community college for scheduling information for spring semester so I can get my oldest dual-enrolled for a class. I am mentally planning a short literary introduction to Faulkner for my boys and any teens in the homeschool group who want to go to Oxford MS and tromp where he tromped. I am thinking about the three ponds in the neighborhood, and how a bio lab on water quality might be an interesting project for our family. (Please send ideas/resources).

I'm thinking of Kevin's Eagle project. He typed out his solicitation for volunteers today. He'll be transforming a trail at the Arkabutla Lake Army Corps of Engineers project into an interpretive trail, with signs about the nature and history of the area, along with other trail improvements. At one point, you can see the channel where the Coldwater River once flowed, complete with big-kneed cyprus trees. But the river was moved, moved to get the channel in the right place to create Arkabutla dam and Arkabutla Lake, providing flood control, ultimately for the Mississippi River.

And I think about Kevin's keyboarding. At some point I said, "Granny's worried that you don't really know how to type. Could you put your fingers in the right places and learn to use the keyboard without looking at the keys so she won't worry about you?" In less than two months, he transformed from non-typist to typist, motivated by Mom worrying about Granny worrying about him -- with online forums on evolution, corporal punishment, compulsory education, civil rights and religion providing the "exercises."

So in two months, some of the want-to-do's will have been lived. Some still will be in the planning stages. Some will have been lost in the immediate shuffle for hair cuts, doctor's appointments, good-books-you-can't-put-down, and walks in the woods, which are best in October and November, with a little boy running ahead to warn any cooler-weather snakes that you're coming.

New want-to-do's will make themselves known within two months, shimmering amidst the scrambled eggs, read-alouds, and driveway basketball games.

RĂ¡pido. Muy rĂ¡pidamente.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Husband Material

I'm over-run by appointments with naturalists for the Eagle-scout-to-be, doctors' appointments for the exchange student, computer geek meetings for the build-a-computer kid. Then there's how Nick and friend re-arranged all the furniture in the living room, with sheets and towels draped over all to make a giant model of the interior of Hogwarts. Too much cool play in there to even feel like complaining about the fact that every sheet in the house is now unfolded and mixed with golden retriever hair.

But here's the thing. Eagle scout son sensed my blurry vision. He asked what he could do to help, proceeded to go out and do my errands for me, thought out what we could use for dinner, bought the groceries, and came home and got the other guys to grill chicken, cook green beans and rice, set the table, do the dishes.

Then he announced he's applied for some kind of writing gig for an online newspaper connected to a forum he's been participating on, and how did I feel about that?

Well right now, it's sounding a lot like that kid can do no wrong.

And did I mention that he TOOK Nick, 7, with him to get the groceries, in the process defusing a major feud over computer time among American/Ecuadoran brothers?

And some people don't believe in miracles.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Unschooling Government

Tonight the boys and I were sitting around eating pizza -- well, Isaac was having his first bowl of Frosted Flakes since coming to America (sometimes This Sort of Food is Not Allowed)(and these were Generic) -- and I decided I'd better check in with them on the Supreme Court Justice nomination process. I admit that the whole thing has been a bit back-burnered with our proximity to Katrina, so it was time to play catch-up with current events.

I casually reviewed how the executive branch has nominated John Roberts for Chief Justice and how the legislative branch is now doing its "advise and consent" thing --and how, if Roberts is confirmed (or who-ever is confirmed), the judicial branch will be affected for decades to come. We talked about checks and balances. We talked about how supreme court decisions have affected American life in the past and how they could affect the future.

Isaac was nodding. He's taking US Government at the high school, and he's also studied American government in Ecuador. He knows Those Branches.

I asked him how his government teacher is addressing the Supreme Court nomination process in the classroom. And of course, he isn't. While it would be easy for me to blame the teacher, I realize that the teacher's duty is more complicated than that. He has to "get through the material," and so, the high school government class is studying the 1700's right now, having made it through the Magna Carta and the Mayflower Compact. The high school government class is not mentioning the first supreme court nomination process in what, a decade or more?

Kevin and Patrick and I went into the intricacies and strategies of the questioning of the Republicans and Democrats, the testimony of the Planned Parenthood official and the business/industry representative and the civil rights leaders. We discussed the qualities needed in a justice, the concept of litmus tests, and Mr. Roberts' qualifications. As always, issues seem to boil down to states' rights versus the power of the federal government when you're sitting at a kitchen table in Mississippi. We talk about how we can often seem to be states' rights people, but there were those matters of slavery and civil rights that it seems to have taken federal power to resolve -- and then the discussion begins to really roar -- secession, anarchy, rule of law, bill of rights. We discuss real and imagined supreme court decisions. Kevin doesn't like the one where you have to give your name if a police officer stops you. Patrick doesn't understand why that should bother you. I offer that if you're riding around in a neighborhood and you don't want your wife to know you're there, then if a cop stops you, you don't want to give your name in case it could get back to your wife. Patrick counters that you shouldn't be sneaking around on your wife in the first place.

And so it goes. Isaac, who is starting to get some of the intricacies of the English language (You can catch a bus, a fish, and a cold), doubtless did not follow the whole conversation. But even more assuredly, he did not know that the boys and I had just "studied" American government. It is so sneaky and without artifice, this living and learning. Hard to tell which parts of it Nick, age 7, picked up, but I'm sure he's building his way into a conversation he can have with me ten years from now, when he's 17.

So after dinner, I set out a few mouse traps because we seem to have acquired an unwelcome critter. And we proceeded to unschooling Spanish, with Isaac's reggaeton CDs on a little louder than I actually prefer, and we ask, "Que significa 'esta noche?'"

"It means, 'tonight.'" Esta noche, a universally important theme en musica. Kevin tells me how listening to the Spanish music all the time really seems to be helping his ear for the language; Isaac tells me he listens to Kevin's CD's with head phones to improve his English.

Patrick and Nick argue with "Tu eres un nino malo" -- "No -- TU eres nino malo!". Another universal theme entre los hermanos, si?

Esta noche, indeed.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Where to Start?

I wobble between survivor's guilt, gratefulness, inability to help, desire to help, and the somewhat-assurance of soccer practice, piano lessons, and karate. As long as the gas supply in Northwest Mississippi holds a bit.

Our family is so incredibly fine. Our home is so undamaged. Our power is back on, and we have some storm clean-up to do in the yard. Minor. Minor. Minor.

I try to make connections for folks, by email, cell phone, telephone calls. Homeschoolers who want to help homeschoolers, people who offer their homes, foundations that I know are reliable so I can tell people to give there. I call local hotels, who say, indeed, there are people out of money. I send the hotel phone numbers to people who have asked how they can help. It's a short-term, emergency solution. No one thinks that providing money for one night for one family for one hotel room is going to solve anything. But it gives one family twenty-four more hours to connect with other family members, to find friends, to assess damage, to make plans. It is not enough. It is something.

Isaac's family in Ecuador was worried. When you hear about the devastation in "Mississippi, USA" from South America, you can only believe that your son is in harm's way. I emailed his brother before the storm, saying we are going to pay attention, but we think we're out of the main path of Hurricane Katrina. The next morning, no power, so I called and left a message -- We're okay. Later, when power came back, I sent some details by email. Still, his brother called, understandably, and I explained that we had been careful, we were ready to move, but that we were truly safe, and we had been safe. Isaac and I come to the Spanish phrase Nosotros somos precavidos. We are cautious. We agree that this makes us a good match for his family. Padres de Isaac son precavidos tambien. Isaac's parents are also cautious.

My sense is that none of mis hijos understands the gravity of what has happened. I tell the stories I've heard, I share the emails, I show the newspaper headlines and articles, I show them photos on the internet, I get them to watch CNN -- in small doses. I explain, all day, I explain. They hear me making phone calls, trying to put people together, trying to tell folks who want to help, don't go down there unless you have enough gas to get back.

Our county has hundreds of evacuees. Evacuees are north and south of us, scattered from the exit arms of the long body of Interstate 55 in churches and homes and hotels and rest stops and restaurants and Walmarts.

I did not lose anything in my freezer. I am fearful about the tenuousness of my country's port system, oil supply, refinery ability, emergency preparedness. I can make microwave popcorn. I sit up in bed -- having become the mother I saw on TV, separated from her hospitalized newborn. I can drive to soccer practice -- where the whole team will show up, every child with one or two parents on the sideline. I make phone calls. The voice on the other end of the line, on the other end of Mississippi, wavers. "Bleach," he says. "We need bleach, in half-gallon bottles, and we need a moped. Mosquito repellent, hand sanitizer, first aid supplies, paper towels, canned food."

He and the others in his church fed 50 people three days ago, 400 people the next day, 1000 people yesterday. How many will come today?

My boys eat cereal and have started their weekend chores. They want to finish early, to have the hard things behind them.